Written for the IWRY Ficathon

Thanks to my amazing betas: married_n_mich, yhlee, and fauxmaven. They forced me to reach deep and as a result, this story is everything I hoped it would be.

Thanks to chrislee for running this ficathon and keeping the love alive. This year's stories have been amazing and I hope mine measures up.

1.

I wanna help her. I want... I wanna become someone.

They walked back to the abandoned warehouse in silence. Angel's shoulders remained hunched, his hands deep inside the pockets of his filthy coat. His thoughts slammed randomly against each other, billiard balls unable to coalesce into something greater than their parts. He had come across the country on the say so of a Guys and Dolls reject, with the slim hope that somehow his ever quickening downward slide would be averted. What Whistler had shown him had made him sympathetic toward someone else for the first time in a long, long time.

This girl – Buffy – was so very young. Too much a child to be asked to save the world. Why should fate have singled her out?

He'd spent the last hundred years making wrong choices. Every time there had been a fork in the road, he'd unerringly chosen the wrong direction. No matter what he had done, the end result was that people got hurt. He walked silently next to Whistler, weighing his life and finding himself lacking.

"I don't know how to help her," he finally stated. Helping himself has been more than he could accomplish. How could he be asked to help someone else?

Whistler turned, giving Angel an appraising look. "You will."

The warehouse was simply an immense, empty room with concrete floor and cinderblock walls. Angel could smell traces of motor oil and exhaust and the metal of machinery long gone. There were narrow windows high upon two sides that butted against the ceiling. No moonlight shone through, the angle was too high, making the interior shadowless as well as featureless. Oily grit crunched under his boots as he walked further into the space. In the far corner was a pile of gray, threadbare blankets. A high-pitched, all-too-familiar squeak echoed softly.

"Originally I was going to try to find you a suite at the Ritz, but then I realized this was probably more your style." Whistler stated, not sounding particularly apologetic.

At one time, a slur like that would have guaranteed a ripped-out throat. Now Angel couldn't even muster a glare. Besides, it was true. When was the last time he had even bathed or combed his hair?

"I'll let you get to it then, right? I'll be shoving off for now."

Angel turned to the other demon, keeping his uneasiness at that statement to himself. "What?"

"Things to do, messages to deliver, lives to ruin. See you in the morning, kid," Whistler continued. And with that, Angel found himself alone.

Lives to ruin. Angel hoped he was being facetious, but Whistler's brand of humor was difficult for him to distinguish from straightforward honesty.

Rats skittered around the edges of the building. He guessed he'd be dining on rodent cruor later tonight. Come morning, he'd have no choice but to be trapped in this oversized prison cell, but for now he needed to escape the confines of this place or what was left of his sanity would be pushed to the brink.

He strode through the streets, unconsciously noting that the air quality was much worse than the last time he'd been here, close to half a century ago. Some things were still the same though – LA wasn't a walking town. The few people he did encounter gave him a wide berth, although he was too deep within his own head to even notice.

Round and round his thoughts swirled as he attempted to figure out a way to assist Buffy. He imagined that going up to her and saying, "Hi! I'm a vampire and I'm here to help!" would only get him staked for his troubles and rightly so.

He could retrace his steps back to the Summers' house but he wasn't sure what purpose it would serve. She was asleep and safe for now. There was a small part of him that would have liked to just go and gaze at her because in some ways she reminded him of himself. He had never asked to be a vampire with a soul, instantly becoming neither man nor beast but something that resided in the cracks of both. He suspected that being the slayer might be similar.

He needed to take things one step at a time. He needed to find a better place to live. He needed to get his strength back. Maybe he could find out where the vampire hangouts were and he could pass Buffy some information. Eventually he would formulate some strategies regarding the most effective way to help out.

For the first time in years he felt a small flicker of hope. He got back to the warehouse just ahead of the breaking dawn. Whistler was still gone. No matter. Angel could wait for tonight. He crept over to the tangled pile of blankets and layed down after removing his boots. His dreams weren't edged in red as usual, but instead were washed in gold as he chased after the laughing figure of a young woman; his dream self content to be close enough to watch over her.

He woke up as the sun was setting, his internal alarm clock more accurate than any one made by man. He looked around, even as his nose was telling him that Whistler hadn't been here in hours. He pushed the blankets aside, scrambling to his knees, disbelieving what was plainly obvious. A small white piece of paper littered the floor, twenty feet away. Standing, he walked over to it and picked it up from the dirty concrete floor.

You'll be fine.

He stared at it, then crumbled it in his fist and in a rage, tossed it. All it did was bounce lightly against the floor. He made an incoherent noise, slamming his fist against the wall. The pain radiated up through his elbow, his face shifting in reaction to it. He couldn't do this. He had no idea how to even begin. He would head back to New York the next night, back to the shadows that Whistler had dragged him out of.

He sank back down to the floor, his face melting back to human. He dragged his finger through the caked-on dust present on the floor. Five minutes later, Buffy's face was peering back at him – young, vulnerable, full of life.

He couldn't leave. He knew exactly what Buffy was going to be facing because for one hundred and fifty years, he had been the monster ready to pounce and kill; the nightmare that used the cover of the dark to terrorize. Murdering thousands with no more thought than a person gave to stamping out an anthill.

He would make penance for his sins by making sure she survived.